Members in Department for Communities please see below a letter sent to Tracy Meharg, Permanent Secretary, Deparment for Communities from Dooley Harte, Assistant Secretary, NIPSA.

I wanted to write to you following your most recent message to staff in relation to the additional restrictions now implemented by the Executive.

I wanted to put on record my agreement with your commitment that “All of you who can work from home must do so” as I believe this is essential to meeting the restrictions set by the Executive. I would also include with this the advice that we should only travel where it is essential that you do so.

I would also welcome your comment that attendance must be considered alongside “critical service delivery needs”. NIPSA has long accepted that DfC has key workers providing critical services but it is the case that not all staff deliver ‘critical’ work and it is on this point that I write.

We are in the middle of a health pandemic that has infection rates higher now than when lockdown was imposed in March. On 27 March 2020, Northern Ireland at 275 confirmed Covid cases in total and lockdown as imposed by the Executive the next day. In the last 5 days alone, we have had 4478 confirmed cases. It is therefore essential that DfC does everything it can to reduce numbers attending its offices to reduce the spread this deadly virus.

I know that significant steps have been taken in allocating IT to assist homeworking. I received confirmation from IT services in the last few days that around 5500 devices have been issued to staff since March with many more to come. So there is a greater capacity for staff to work from home but we need to go further. We need to ensure that only those staff delivering a critical service are in attendance and all other staff, even if they don’t have the IT to work from home, are asked to stay at home for the next 4 weeks.

We welcomed recent staff reductions in the North West offices as a means to meet the Executive’s extended restrictions for this Council area. We believe that the time is right for these staff reductions to now be applied across the department so that we can better protect all staff. Fewer staff attending the offices will better protect those that must attend to deliver critical services. And staying at home will better protect these staff from infections they may pick up either travelling to, from or while in the office.

I would therefore ask that a temporary reduction in staffing numbers similar to that applied in the North West recently is applied across the Department immediately. We believe this is a proportionate and needed response to a devastating pandemic, that it will protect critical service delivery while helping staff meet the advices demanded by the Executive.

I look forward to your response.

Dooley Harte
Assistant Secretary